I heard of The Eyre Affair (2001) by Jasper Fforde from a number of different Cannonball readers and it sounded pretty interesting, so I put it on my list and just now finally got around to reading it.
Thursday Next is a woman in her thirties, a former police officer, and a survivor of a disastrous offensive in the neverending Crimean War, she is now a Special Operative in the Litera-Tec division in London. Thursday Next is drawn into an assignment dealing with the heinous and murderous Acheron Hades and the mysterious disappearance of Charles Dickens' Chuzzlewit manuscript. Although Thursday Next lives in 1980's England, her reality is quite different from our world. England is a police state, run by a giant corporation by the name of Goliath. Her father can literally stop and control time. She has a pet dodo bird and helps her co-worker fight werewolves and vampires. And for some reason, people are obsessed with literature and art. Acheron Hades eventually gets his hands on the original manuscript of Jane Eyre in an effort to hold Ms. Eyre ransom, and Thursday Next finds herself within the classic story and working with Mr. Rochester to protect both their worlds.
I found The Eyre Affair to be incredibly creative and at times very funny. I enjoyed reading it, yet I probably wouldn't call it a favorite. My main problem was that there was so much going on, it seemed to lack focus. I felt so scattered as I read it, that I couldn't get involved in either the characters or the story. Sometimes I felt that Fforde was just stuffing everything that he could possibly satirize or found funny into the 375 pages. Thursday's world includes: werewolves; vampires; unexplained time travel; extinct animals; people obsessed with literature; England as a police state; a never ending war in the Crimea; a father on the run; a brilliant uncle inventor; a dead brother; a feud with an ex-lover; and traveling within literature. After a while I had a hard time believing in anything in Thursday's world because none of it was grounded or explained well enough for me to accept.
I understand that The Eyre Affair couldn't have been so funny, creative, and all encompassing if Fforde had stopped to explain everything that was going on--if that were even possible. It would have been a different book. And even though I couldn't understand why people in Thursday's world were so obsessed with literature or why Jane Eyre would still be a famous novel with a different and godawful ending, I loved the idea of literally delving into the world of the stories. But I was too frustrated by not understanding Thursday's world and distracted by the hundreds of themes Fforde had up in the air to ever really fall into the story and forget that I was reading a book.